Giving Thanks for Congressional Leadership

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December 5, 2017 – December is a month of family celebrations, when we give thanks for all the year has brought us. At the same time, kids of all ages look forward to celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanza and Christmas. The season is full of light and thanksgiving.

Yet for so many, the holidays are a difficult reminder of family members and friends lost to suicide. These losses know no political, geographic or economic boundaries. Americans from all walks of life suffer mental health challenges and need access to mental health care, just as they need help for other medical issues like heart disease or diabetes. And in a time of prolonged war and its aftermath, too many military families know the sadness of losing a veteran family member or friend to suicide.

As the Chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Public Policy Council and former Board Chair, I bring news of hope and for greater understanding by our elected leaders. This fall, during National Suicide Prevention Week, two new leaders stepped up to the plate to address this most serious issue. Representatives John Katko (R-NY) and Don Beyer (D-VA) joined together to form a new, first-ever bipartisan House Suicide Prevention Task Force.

“Suicide is a tragedy which affects all of us, and it is incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to prevent it,” said Rep. Don Beyer. “There is more that Congress can do to raise awareness and save lives, and that’s why we have formed this Task Force.”

Rep. John Katko said, “Suicide has affected far too many families in Central New York and in communities nationwide. It is clear there is a vital need to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental healthcare.”

The Task Force will be part of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, founded and chaired by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), an AFSP award winner for her leadership. “Suicide affects all demographics, but because of stigma we still do not speak about it,” said Rep. Grace Napolitano. “It is vital that we continue to educate our colleagues and find ways to address this epidemic in a bipartisan manner.”

We are pleased to work with Representatives Katko and Beyer to make suicide prevention a higher priority in our country. By forming a task force, they are encouraging other members of Congress and policy makers to recognize the importance of prevention. More conversation and leadership about the need for mental health care services will help save lives.

Following this announcement, AFSP hosted a brown-bag lunch for members of Congress and their staff members around the theme of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Participants could ask questions about mental health and suicide prevention. To follow up, we are planning additional educational events in 2018 to help make the conversation about mental health and suicide prevention as matter-of-fact as discussing Alzheimer’s or cancer.

So at this special time of year, we give thanks to our elected leaders, especially Representatives Napolitano, Katko and Beyer, for helping us elevate the public understanding of mental health and suicide prevention. We look forward to working with them on important mental health policy priorities in 2018. Such opportunities – and the victories that will follow – will make the holidays of 2018 full of even more thanksgiving and joy.

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